Once it was film projectors that were a must-have to scout college players, and then came beta tapes, Steve Keim remembered.
It’s a different world, now. Digital video can easily be sorted to watch on an iPad, and technology has taken all draft preparation to another place altogether – a place manifested in the Cardinals’ upgraded draft room, where a giant interactive screen on one end underscores how the draft is done.
“The new draft board is like Christmas day for us,” said Keim, these days the Cardinals' General Manager.
The board is the biggest of the bells and whistles, where Keim can stand up and with his hand move players up and down the team’s “120” list from where they will make their draft picks. But that’s just the shiny new toy of a system years in the making from various departments to make the draft process as advantageous as possible.
It’s about automation. There is already plenty of human element in scouting when it comes to deciding how good a player can
“The more you do manually the more you succumb to human error,” director of football administration Mike Disner said. “The more stuff that is automated and pulls directly from our scouting database and the league office and the different sources that we have the more accurate it is and the more apt we are to have the correct information to make timely, judgment calls.”
Before, the Cardinals painstakingly would make up cards for each individual player and put them up on a board – magnetized – for their lists. Now, it’s all not only completely digitized for the 120, for instance, but easily seen by all in the draft room because of the giant screen.
The process began in 2006, when Carter Tamblyn, football operations database administrator – then working in the club’s IT department -- began to create in-house scouting software. Tamblyn, brought back to the club when Keim was promoted to GM, has now taken that data and helped make it interactive.
“It was a matter of taking what we had and digitizing and automating,” Tamblyn said.
Taking that newly streamlined database and plugging it into outlets like the new big screen fell to Mike Conner, who is the team’s video and scoreboard operations manager. In many ways, the marriage of data, video and equipment runs parallel to executing the various components of the multiple University of Phoenix Stadium video boards during a game.
“Similar in conceptualizing, design, budgeting, planning and execution,” Conner said. “Cutting edge technology meets cutting edge team process and creativity.”
Disner, Tamblyn and Conner coordinated the refurbishment of the room after team president Michael Bidwill approved the project.
“None of it happens without the vision Michael has for the organization and how he wants to see us as one of the technologically advanced teams,” Disner said.
The Cardinals now have all their information tied together, whether Keim might want to look up a player’s contract on draft weekend, look at a trade that just was executed around the league (and see how it compares to the trade draft value points chart every team uses) or see details on a prospect.
Technology alone won’t mean the Cardinals will draft well. That remains on Keim and his staff of personnel men and scouts who have grinded away in evaluating hundreds of college players over the past year.
“As Steve says, technology can’t measure the head and the heart,” Disner said. “But it will provide you with the framework that your scouts and coaches can make a call based on the most information and most relevant information possible.”
Two other large TVs flank the giant board in the room – along with a big screen on the opposite end of the room – allowing for different satellite feeds to be shown while work is done.
The setup helps with confidentiality too – with a quick click of a button, all the proprietary grades and lists can be taken off the screens, protecting the work from any unnecessary eyes.
“Michael’s commitment to taking this to the next level has been a fun part for us, because it’s a scout’s dream to have an interactive draft board,” Keim said. “The old days, shuffling through a bunch of papers, now it’s at your fingertips. You can point and click and have the info available.
“It’s amazing. I never thought it would come this far this fast.”